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Lead Crisis in New Jersey: Frustrated Residents Line Up for Bottled Water

The wide-scale water distribution of 247 pallets of water is the first time the city has taken such drastic action since the lead crisis began in 2017.

By Karen Yi

Frustrated, hot and confused, Newark residents lined up on Monday afternoon to pick up bottled water as the city’s ongoing lead crisis reached new heights -- and raised new questions.

The wide-scale water distribution of 247 pallets of water is the first time the city has taken such drastic action since the lead crisis began in 2017. City officials, meanwhile, continue investigating why new samples show filters at two of three tested homes weren’t removing lead from the water as expected.

The surprising test results prompted immediate action by the state and city, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requested Newark provide bottled water.

Joe Moody, who waited in line with his 6-year-old son, said he was happy the city was handing out water, but remained worried about his child.

“If it affects the kids, it’s horrible,” he said. “I’m definitely worried about him because I want him to be able to think, react well in school, learn what he’s supposed to learn.”

No amount of lead is safe and it is known to particularly affect children’s cognition and behavior.

Recent testing results released publicly on Saturday showed that the drinking water at two homes using water filters still contained high lead levels. Newark has so far handed out 38,000 nationally-certified water filters to residents who have lead service lines that connect underground water mains to homes.

“They’re causing hysteria,” said Ra Thomas, 53. “But I’d rather know than not know. I understand why.”

Only residents serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant who have lead service lines are eligible for filters. That’s about 14,000 households, city officials said. But on Monday, one resident complained he waited in line for two hours but was turned away because his addresses wasn’t on the list.

“Why did you call me with the robo-call to come get water?” one resident who declined to give his name said. He said he received a free filter from the same location. “This process is inadequate.”

Newarkers receive water from one of two treatment plants -- the Pequannock and Wanaque. The Pequannock plant services the South and West wards and western portions of the North and South Wards. The Wanaque plant services the East Ward and slivers of the North and South Wards.

“We’re not going to put a time frame on the water, we’re going to give the water out as long as we need to give the water out,” West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum said outside the Boylan Recreation Center. “I’m concerned about the residents. I’m concerned about their quality of life and definitely concerned about their health.”

Residents began lining up outside the Boylan rec center around 1:30 p.m. Some waited in line almost two hours and said they just wanted the city to fix the problem.

“It’s terrible. We’ve got to stand in line for a natural resource that should be free for everybody,” said 66-year-old resident Sandra, who declined to provide her last name. She said she was upset the city was urging residents to continue to flush their water.

“We can’t drink it, we can’t wash in it and we still got to pay for it,” she said.

Newark began a new corrosion control treatment that coats old lead pipes and prevents them from dissolving lead into the water. The treatment is expected to take months to be fully effective and city officials have urged residents to continue flushing the water to make sure the chemical runs through the water supply.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe on Monday responded to the EPA, asking the agency to step up and help the state and city fund bottled water distribution.

She said the EPA’s request to give out alternate water to residents was sent to Newark “without advance warning” despite all parties working together on the lead issue.

By the late afternoon Monday, the line had died down at the Boylan center but residents continued trickling out of the center carrying water.

“Fix it. Fix the problem,” resident Amanda Jefferson, 34, said.

Newarkers can pick up water through Friday. City officials said it’s unclear if they will need to continue providing water after this week. Additional sampling is currently being analyzed.

(c)2019 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

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